Positive Peace and Negative Peace

 Peace advocates Jane Addams and Mary McDowell

By Amy C. Schneidhorst

The Nobel Prize committee recently celebrated the 2017 prize recipients, among whom were Bob Dylan and Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos. Decades ago, on December 10, 1931, Jane Addams and Nicholas Murray Butler were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In his speech on behalf of the peace laureates, Halvdan Koht, member of the Nobel Committee, introduced the two recipients with this statement:

American social idealism expresses itself as a burning desire to devote work and life to the construction of a more equitable society, in which men will show each other consideration in their mutual relations, will provide stronger protection to the weak and will offer greater opportunities for the beneficent forces of progress.

He explained that Addams and Butler were chosen as representing two different approaches to American “spirited idealism” for peace. Butler was honored for his contributions to international efforts to regulate and outlaw war through the 1928 Briand Kellogg Pact, whose signatories agreed not to use war to resolve conflict and for his work to create the international court. Addams was commended for her leadership in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to encourage neutral European countries to mediate with belligerents at the beginning of the Great War and her pioneering work as a social reformer and writer to “construct a more equitable society.”  

Butler’s and Addams’ complementary approaches to peace are consistent with what Johan Galtung has conceptualized as positive and negative peace: negative peace where peace is the absence of violence; positive peace where the root causes of violence are addressed to bring about more peaceful conditions.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Addams and Butler took place in a period when citizens from countries involved in World War I began to reassess the causes of that conflict and try to prevent a future global war. One approach was to attempt to create international systems of law and mediation to encourage countries to mediate conflicts. Another approach emerged out of the belief in progress among social reformers: to study and address the conditions that cause social conflict. In particular, reformers focused on the conflicts resulting from unregulated industrial expansion on the one hand and, on the other, the growth of pluralistic communities as immigrants in large numbers arrived to work in U.S. industries and build U.S. cities.

Jane Addams’ approach to peace illustrates the relationship between the local and the global. With her friend Ellen Gates Starr, Addams founded Hull-House, the first settlement house in the U.S., a communal residence in an immigrant neighborhood where reformers could live (hence the term settlement house) and incubate solutions to social problems neglected by municipal, state and federal governments. Founded in 1889 and growing to be a 13-building complex by 1907, Hull-House offered inspiration to 10,000 people per week in the early 1900s. It housed upwards of 70 volunteer residents and staff, often women, who researched social and economic conditions, fostered social reforms and offered services. At their height just before World War I, more than 400 social settlements carried out innovative programs across the country.

At Hull-House Addams saw the path toward peace as holistic: People from different ethnic and class backgrounds would live in close proximity, recognizing the need to work together and support one another out of necessity while understanding their differences.

In her vision, middle-class social reformers would work in partnership with immigrants and workers and would learn from them about the problems they faced. That knowledge informed the policies and programs reformers proposed to address substandard housing, hazardous workplaces and unsafe sanitation and streets. Although reformers brought biases to their work, their model was less paternalistic/maternalistic than that of lady bountifuls distributing charity.

According to biographer Victoria Bissell Brown, Addams advocated for cross-class coalitions to address labor disputes, “an active, peaceful labor movement cooperating with a capitalist class that understood its responsibility to prevent poverty, not simply ameliorate it.” Nationally and in Chicago, the Women’s Trade Union League modeled such cross-class collaboration though it experienced tensions along class lines.

Addams did not consider herself a socialist, but she did support the civil liberties of socialists and anarchists, and Hull-House residents supported workers, especially women workers, organizing and striking.

Addams and WILPF members saw poverty and other inequalities as obstacles to social peace. And it was this work, of engaging with people across racial and ethnic identities in a pluralistic society, that, they felt, could give people from the U.S. an important experience in peacemaking that could be used to promote more just U.S. international relations.

In the past 20years, Midwesterners and their international allies with whom I work have continued the struggle for positive peace, taking the lead in organizations such as Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) to call for global integration, human rights and justice and reconciliation after decades of war, military occupation and corporate nationalism. In a belief that only peaceful means can bring about a peaceful outcome, these transnational activists, at the invitation of communities in international conflict areas, use nonviolence and community organizing methods to provide support for individuals and communities impacted by war and military occupation in Kabul, Afghanistan; Iraq; Palestine and Colombia.

As part of a critique of war and its impact, in digital media and speeches, VCNV and CPT work against the direct violence of war and drone warfare, but they also educate how drone warfare and occupation impede democratic participation and isolate citizens seeking nonviolent and democratic policies in postcolonial societies. These activists also promote positive peace through working with citizens in conflict zones to analyze the intersection of violence, economic injustice and human rights and to navigate occupation and local governments to challenge a broad range of oppressions.

Movements in conflict zones, such as activists in Gangjeong Village, Je Ju Island, Republic of Korea, and the Afghan Peace Volunteers of Kabul, Afghanistan, in turn shape the U.S. interfaith peace movement with principles of interdependence, respect for indigenous human rights and spirituality, and communalism and mutual support across ethnic and clan lines as antidotes to individualism and isolation and exploitation. This transnational interfaith peace movement is a source of support for international dissent in war zones while also being a source of inspiration and solidarity for resistance to corporatism and militarism within the U.S.

This U.S. peace movement and its international allies have even more relevance for us as we seek greater connection, mutual support and fresh ideas for resistance to isolation and xenophobia and to find ways to navigate a pluralistic society where we may need to find common interest across significant divides in interest and belief systems.

Peace activist Amy C. Schneidhorst is author of Building a Just and Secure World: Popular Front Women’s Struggle for Peace and Justice in Chicago during the 1960s.

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